Thursday, December 30, 2010

Civet Poop Coffee!

My culinary student and former barista nephew Joel slipped a fun present into my Christmas stocking this year. (For those of you who are now crushed because you were laboring under the delusion belief that only Santa fills stockings, my sincerest apologies.)

It was this!

Famed as one of the most prized and expensive coffees in the world, Kopi Luwak is produced in Indonesia. The coffee berries are eaten by the Asian Palm Civet (an adorable little animal), pooped out, gathered, cleaned, roasted, and the resultant coffee is flavorful and reputedly less bitter than other coffees.

Who knew? I didn't know, but my nephew did, and he was insistent upon tasting the coffee with me.

So off we marched to the kitchen to brew a pot and try it out. Joel's mom wasn't exactly thrilled about the idea of any coffee having to do with poop coming anywhere near her coffee maker, so we brewed it in the French Press - which was much more fun anyway.

As you'll see, we boiled the water, filled the press with coffee, added the water, and waited.

After the appropriate wait time, we pressed the coffee and tried it out!

Well what was the verdict? My nephew and I both wished we'd made the coffee a bit stronger. But that said, it was very smooth, very flavorful, with no bitterness at all. Two thumbs up!

And yes, it smells like coffee - it doesn't smell like poop!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Life Sans Microwave

So when did you buy your first microwave oven? I’m sitting here trying to remember, but can’t quite. I’ve been going through each of my apartments in my mind over the last several years, trying to recall in which dwelling I can “see” a microwave sitting on the counter. It appears in my memory sometime in the ‘90s, although I can’t pinpoint the year.

Never mind. Leaving aside the trip down memory lane, let’s just say that like most people, I’ve probably owned a microwave oven pretty steadily for somewhere between 10 and 15 years.

And now I don’t!

I was rarely one to cook entire meals in my microwave oven. However I had been accustomed to using one daily, whether to boil water, defrost frozen foods (if I was in a pinch), or to quickly heat up leftovers. Ever since I bought my first microwave oven, it has been a standard kitchen appliance, seemingly as necessary as my coffee pot.

However now, lovely though my new kitchen is, I don’t have room for one. Counter space is at a premium and I’m unwilling to relinquish an inch of it to a microwave. And I suppose I could buy a small stand for one, as I have done in the past. But floor space is limited as well, and I’m loath to make my kitchen feel any more cramped than it already does.

So I’m living without one, and you know what? I’m managing just fine! I’ve reverted to using the same methods I used before microwaves were inexpensive enough to own and I bought my first one - whenever that was!

I boil water (infrequently as a matter of fact, not being a tea drinker) in a pan on the stove (no, I don’t have a teapot either – note the non-tea-drinking thing). I defrost food the old fashioned way – time. And I heat up leftovers in the oven, or in my Creuset saucepan on the stovetop, covered with a bit of liquid (stovetop is faster, I find). It takes a bit more time. I have to plan ahead a bit – leftovers aren't hot in 2 minutes; it takes more like 10-15, depending on the food item.

I'm a bit surprised to find I’m not missing that microwave, and I have no plans to buy one in the near future!

I feel like a pioneer or something. You know, a homesteader. Stage coaches and what not. I think my family thinks I’m a bit nuts (as if they needed another reason :)

And I’m feeling a bit smug about it!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Planting Party & Wine Tasting

As I have reported in the past, CornerStone in Sonoma is a fun collection of gardens, wine tasting rooms and shops focused on design. An added plus is the frequent community events they host, such as this weekend's Fall Planting Party.

So I showed up looking forward to creating a pot full of bulbs that will brighten up the little balcony of my new home! The event featured a lovely (and well priced!) selection of bulbs, planting pots, and CornerStone's own horticulturist, Dawn who assisted participants in creating our own pots full of bulbs that will bloom from late winter through spring, year after year.

So I headed off to visit my friend Tom at Potter Green & Co., and selected a beautiful celadon colored pot for my bulbs, plus some worm casings for fertilizer. Then I came to the Planting area.

I selected a variety of bulbs - some narcissus, some tulips, some crocuses and muscari and anenomes - and brought them over to a work table to build my planter.

I added rocks on the bottom, soil and fertilizer, and a row of the tallest growing bulbs, some more soil and the shorter bulbs, and then topped the planter of with some violas, since I wanted the instant gratification of Color Right Now. Here is the end result!

But no visit to CornerStone is complete without wine tasting, and the Fall Planting event included complimentary tastings. How great is that? So my first stop was Meadowcroft tasting room, a relatively new addition pouring a selection of wine labels under Meadowcroft's ownership.

I got two free samples, and selected the 2009 Thomas Henry Verdelho, as it was unfamiliar to me. Verdelho is a varietal from Portugal, and this one was grown in Lodi (Borden Ranch AVA). It was floral in the nose, with notes of white peach and a pleasant though not exactly crisp acidity, and I found it quite enjoyable. I also tasted the 2006 Magito Cabernet Blend, with grapes from Chalk Hill and Alexander Valley in Sonoma County. It contained 60% Cab, 20% Merlot and 20% Cab Franc, had a jammy nose, Big Black Cherry flavor and some cassis in the finish. Very nice!

My next stop was the Keating Wines tasting room, also a relatively new addition.

I really enjoyed these wines! First I tasted a 2008 Sonoma Valley Merlot, with a berry nose and notes of red and black cherry and rasberry. I found it young, and dare I say it, a little thin. However, the 2006 Rockpile Malbec was much more impressive - very soft with cherry and blueberry notes. Better still was the 2007 Rockpile Petite Sirah - a rich wine with notes of blackberry, black cherry and cassis. My server John and I thought it would pair beautifully with grilled tri-tip.

Last were two cabs. The recently released 2008 Montecillo Cab was a bit young and tight, with some red current notes. I am curious to see how this wine will develop as it ages. However, I really enjoyed the 2008 Napa Beckstoffer Georges III Cabernet Sauvignon - a 100% cab sourced from the Rutherford appellation which officially hasn't even been released yet. A lovely claret color, an herbaceous nose with hints of eucalyptus, and notes of red current. I really loved this wine, and savored sipping it while I chatted with my server about things to expect from this year's challenging vintage.

All in all, a very enjoyable afternoon of planting, sipping and chatting with friendly folks! And here is the end result of my adventure on my little balcony.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Zion 2010 Report: Camping, Foodie Style!

Now, it is certainly understandable that we didn't get great shots of the good cooking (or reheating of prior good cooking) and good drinking that went on in our homey little Zion campsite, because by the time we were cooking it was pitch dark.

                                                                (Photo by Cindy Powers)

But how could it happen that five women and five cameras didn't snap a single shot of the communal campsite where all the cooking and imbibing occurred? Shocking but true. Ah well. Trust me; it was a lovely home away from home :) Here is the secondary campsite. Nice view, eh?

                                                               (Photo by Cindy Powers)

So I'll just have to scatter Other Fun Photos around while I describe our fine dining. Could be worse :)

The first night, our bartender Desert Deb created cocktails for us that she labeled Flirtinis, while we set up camp and prepared to cook. We sipped our cocktails and snacked on chips dipped in tapenade and Rasberry Honey Mustard. We heated up a Split Pea Soup made pre-trip by yours truly (a wonderful recipe from Myra Goodman's Earthbound Farm Food to Live By cookbook), had Kim's homemade cookies for dessert, and sipped a very nice Torrontes and a lovely Enkidu Humbaba Rhone blend, as well.

Each morning we feasted on coffee, tea, cereal, yogurt, melons, bagels, and fresh eggs from Desert Deb's own chickens. Yum! And then we packed sandwiches, fruit and trail mix for lunch. Here is a view from our first day's hiking trails.

                                                           (Photo by Daphne Drescher)

Our second night was an even greater feast. For the first course: more cocktails, and Deb's amazing vegetarian chili. Then Deb and I prepared a sweet potato/vegetable medley, sauteed mushrooms and spinach, and pan-seared steaks. Deb and I have cooked together quite a lot in our time, but that we prepared this fabulous meal in the dark with lanterns and flashlights is something I'm a bit proud of. We sipped a lovely Bordeaux and a spicy Shiraz (no idea about the labels - it was too dark - but we enjoyed them). Delish!

Next day was our much anticipated Narrows hike, and how I'm going to pick only one fabulous photo to sum it up, I do not know.

                                                                (Photo by Cindy Powers)

So I'll choose a second :)

                                       (Photo by Cindy Powers)

Our last night, we had a lovely meal at the Spotted Dog Cafe in Springdale, which has become a bit of a tradition for us. We relaxed, and had good food, wine and desserts. (And I also left my car/house keys behind there and failed to notice this until back in CA . . . but I digress.  That's a tale for another blog post, which I will no doubt have to entitle, "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers - and dear friends too.")

Guess that brings the report on the 3rd annual Zion Camping Trip to an end.  Good times, folks!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Supper Club Barbeque!

This month, we made the theme for our Supper Club Barbeque to take advantage of the [very] warm weather - and what a feast it was!

We had amazing appetizers: stuffed eggs, spiced almonds that packed a punch, a fabulous Rick Bayless guacamole with bacon, and both corn and wheat chips for dipping!  The Watermelon Punch was so refreshing on such a hot day - some of us mixed this with the delicious Cava we were drinking.

We enjoyed the most spectacular BBQ Pork with sauce and homemade buns: Oh. My. God. So smoky and delicious!

There were three incredible salads, including Grilled Watermelon & Tomato Salad (prepared by yours truly), and a German Fingerling Potato Salad, and the freshest, crispest Cole Slaw I've ever had (pic below).

Here you can see all the salads, including the splendid Corn Bread.

Last but not least, for dessert we had a wonderful homemade Corn Ice Cream and Brownies!

Don't you wish you'd been there?

How Does Your Garden Grow? Part 2

Here is a picture of tomatoes from my wacky EarthBox tomato plants.  Early Girls in late September?  (There is a Brandywine in there too.)  Yes folks, it's been unusual weather here in Sonoma County this year, and lots of folks have had their tomatoes ripening unseasonably late.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Weekly Winery Adventure: Scribe Winery

My friend and fellow blogger, Bon Vivant, and I had wanted to visit Scribe Winery ever since this spectacular write-up came out in Food & Wine Magazine.  We had our chance recently, when I made us an appointment on a sunny Sunday afternoon.  It was quite a treat!  Here's the story.

The winery and tasting room are located on a little hill overlooking the valley.  

Nora was our server, and she sat us down at a pleasant table and chatted with us while we tasted.  First up was the 2007 Chardonnay with grapes from Carneros.

This was a lovely wine, with a mere suggestion of butter in the nose (it spent 9 mos. in French oak), and notes of tart apple and tangerine, with a hint of lemon in the finish.  We thought it would pair nicely with a creamy, lemony pasta dish, perhaps some rich shellfish - unctuous foods.

Next up was the 2008 Pinot Noir, also from Carneros.

I found red fruit in the nose, and notes of pie cherries, a little white pepper, and blueberry in the finish.  It was quite soft, with a nice mouth feel.  We thought it would pair well with smoked salmon, or roasted poultry.

The next wine was the 2004 Syrah, made of grapes from Atlas Peak.

I noted red fruit and something herbaceous in the nose, flavors of black cherry, blackberry and black pepper.  We thought this wine would stand up to fattier meats - perhaps a leg of lamb, a marbled beef roast, or even pork belly.

Our last wine was the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, also from Atlas Peak.

I enjoyed this wine.  It was velvety, softer and less tannic than the typical Napa Cab, with notes of Big Black Cherry, blackberry, and cassis in the finish.  BV also noted green peppercorn.  We thought the wine would pair particularly well with with braised pork and ancho chiles.

BV and I are trying to convince our fellow Supper Clubbers to attempt to replicate the Scribe pairing meal described in the Food & Wine article.  Stay tuned for that report!

And when you check out Scribe Winery, say hello to Nora!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Farmers' Market Eggplant and a Favorite Recipe

I love eggplant.

I especially love small, tender young eggplant!  I don't know the names of these varieties, but I know they are among my favorites, and I bought some at a recent Farmers Market.

One of my all time favorite eggplant recipes is Sweet-and-Sour Eggplant with Ricotta Salata.  See the link for the recipe; here's what I did.

I caramelized sugar in some water in a saucepan, and then added vinegar, tomatoes, garlic and oil.  I seasoned with salt and white pepper (the white pepper really makes a difference).  This simmered for about 1/2 hour.

Meanwhile, I sliced up my eggplants, laid the slices out on a baking sheet, brushed them with oil, seasoned them, and roasted them in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes, turning them in the middle.

I then spooned tomato sauce over it to cover, and baked it for 20 minutes more until it was bubbling and browning.  When it came out of the oven, I sprinkled over the mint and cheese.  I substituted a Greek feta - I've used this substitution in the past, and it works just fine if ricotta salata is difficult to find.

The finished dish can be served, hot or room temperature, with any remaining tomato sauce on the side.  I think the flavor is beyond compare - the combination of the sugar and vinegar in the sauce taste almost candied, and the slightly bitter and salty flavors from the eggplant and cheese soften the sweetness.  It's a wonderfully rich taste experience!

While the recipe suggests serving this with a Sicilian white or a Pinot Grigio, I really love it with a medium bodied red, such as a Chianti or Barbera.  Enjoy!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Inedible Rubber

That’s my sorry verdict on my first pasta making attempt.  Here's the story.

My friend Joseph, a Personal Chef and one of the chefs at the CIA in St. Helena, was among the folks sharing a glass or three of wine in honor of a friend’s birthday a while back.  We were chatting about cooking matters, and he gave me a pasta making challenge.  I told him I didn’t own a pasta maker, and he said I didn’t need one.  This is the recipe Joseph gave me:

1 cup semolina flour
2 eggs
Pinch of salt

He told me to mix, knead, and roll out the dough as flat as possible, cut and cook for a short period of time.

Joseph was – intentionally I'm sure – vague about any additional instruction.  I think he wanted me to learn stuff for myself.

I confess I did consult a few cookbooks for guidance.  None of them contained Joseph’s exact recipe.  However, they all generally discussed kneading the dough (5-8 minutes), rolling the dough out, and cutting it or putting itthrough the pasta machine.

So here is what I did.

I measured 1 cup semolina flour, and got out two eggs.  I threw a pinch of Kosher salt into the flour.  I beat up the eggs with a fork. 

I poured the beaten eggs into the flour.  At first, I mixed the eggs into the flour with the fork.  Once it was pretty much blended, I turned the dough out onto a lightly floured plastic sheet and began kneading.  After some kneading and adding small (very small) amounts of flour, the dough stopped sticking to my hands.  I found it very difficult to work, and it felt tough and very un-pliable to me.  Here is my dough after about 8 minutes of kneading.  Looks tough, doesn't it?

I rolled the dough out as best I could.  It was very difficult to do.  Getting the dough to budge took all my strength, including leaning on the rolling pin with my elbows.  I couldn’t roll it out any larger than this.  The sheet was, I would estimate, 1/8 inch thick.

I cut the dough into very thin little strips about the size of linguine with my sharpest paring knife. 

However, I may as well not have done this, since I realized once it was time to pop the pasta into the boiling water that it was stuck to the plastic board.  I had to pry it up with a knife, and the effect of all my carefully cut almost perfect little strips was lost.
I didn’t want to overcook it (I wonder if it would have mattered); the mess boiled somewhere between 2 and 4 minutes.

Well as I say, the result was, sadly, pretty inedible.  It tasted like polenta and that was fine, but the texture was hard and rubbery.

What went wrong?  Clearly the problem occurred in the mixing or kneading stages.  I intentionally didn't consult any pasta making videos before my attempt, but I have done so since (and I did find something very close to Joseph's recipe), and the texture of the dough in the videos was very different from mine - much softer.  If I had to speculate, I’m guessing either I worked the flour into the eggs too quickly, or there was perhaps a bit too much flour, or perhaps it was something about the temperature of the eggs (they were straight from the fridge), or perhaps all of the above.

So it was an amusing little experiment (fortunately it didn’t take long), and I’ll be going back to Joseph for a good laugh and, finally, some real instructions.

Or better yet, I’ll see if I can convince him to give me and some of my friends an in-person lesson, because I have a feeling that this is one of these cooking techniques I have to watch, preferably in person, in order to learn.

So stay tuned for the next installment of pasta making experimentation.  We have only one direction to go, my friends, and that is up!

All my pasta making friends out there - give me some advice in the comments, I beg you!

P.S.  The pesto I made to go with this pasta was killer – and the pesto, at least, has not gone to waste!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Great July Supper Club Antipasto Challenge!

Back in 2000, Food and Wine magazine sponsored an Antipasto Challenge between none other than famous chefs Mario Batali and Michael Chiarello.  The magazine declared the competition a draw – you can read the article here.

Our amazing supper clubbers decided we would attempt to reproduce the challenge and see if we could determine a definitive winner.  We made a few substitutions due to dietary issues, and prepared 8 dishes total – 4 Batali and 4 Chiarello.  For pairing, we served the 2005 Milliaire Winery Primitivo Jeunesse, a very food friendly Zin from Amador County, and the 2007 Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir, an equally lovely food wine.  This is a chronicle of our noteworthy (if I do say so myself) efforts!

Batali presents first!

We enjoyed Batali’s Grilled-Fig Salad with Prosciutto, and as you can see, Rose’s presentation was gorgeous!   Figs and prosciutto are a classic combination, and this dish was rich and earthy and paired nicely with the Sinskey, though the Primitivo worked as well.  Rose felt the dish could actually have been improved by a bit less arugula so that the flavors of the fig and prosciutto were truly at the forefront.

Also in the line-up was Batali’s Roasted Squash with Red Onion, Oregano and Mint, prepared by yours truly.  This dish was easy to make, well received, and one I know I will make again and again.  If I had an improvement to suggest, I think I might slice the squash thinner than called for (which will likely reduce the cooking time), to create smaller servings.  I actually liked this dish with both the wines.

Our next Batali dish was a substitution – Black Kale with Ricotta, prepared and modified a bit by Bon Vivant.  I loved the freshness and simplicity of this dish, and it was a hit as well!  I liked it with the Primitivo; it was very nice with the Sinskey too.

Last up for Batali, and my personal favorite dish of the day, was the Goat Cheese Truffles with Peperonata.  We had fun discussing which of the three truffle flavors we liked best – I favored the fennel pollen, but many preferred the sweet paprika – all three were killer!  I loved this dish with the Sinskey, but the Primitivo paired nicely with it as well.  Richards thought she would make the truffles a bit smaller next time (again, it was a large serving), and several of us thought that while the peperonata was delicious, the truffles were the main event and could easily stand on their own with the arugula (again, less of it) to garnish them.

On to the Chiarello dishes!

We loved the Marinated Vegetables – one half was prepared largely as written but with tuna substituted for the anchovies, and the other half omitted the tuna.  Both versions were great – I liked the one with the tuna best.  My opinion was that, perhaps due to the vinegar, neither wine paired especially well with it.  Also, BV reported it was quite time consuming to prepare – but well worth the effort I say - delicious!

Then we had the fabulous Italian Tuna Mousse!  This dish had a perfect texture, light, airy and delicious, and I thought the Mousse with the Sinskey was the most perfect pairing of the evening!

The Wild Mushroom and Tomato Panzanella is a most unusual and interesting version of the classic Italian bread salad (and a recipe I have actually prepared numerous times, though I didn't prepare it this time).  It was beautiful and tasty, and paired particularly well with the Primitivo.

And our last Chiarello dish – and the favorite of many in the group (the dish we all had seconds of!) – was Zucchini Saltimbocca.  Each bite was a treat, with an intriguing balance of flavors, and I loved it with the Sinskey although it certainly stood up well with the Primitivo as well.

Because Supper Club isn’t Supper Club without dessert, although not a part of the official challenge we had a melt-in-your-mouth delicious Berry Pie with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream – it doesn’t get better than that! 

So what were the votes?  Well, we had three votes for Chiarello and four for Batali, but all agreed that it was very close, and that every dish was interesting and delicious.  In fact, we wondered whether, if our club had 8 rather than 7 members, we wouldn’t have come up with a tie as well! 

My own vote (for Batali) had nothing to do with the relative quality of the two sets of dishes, because both were superb, with beautiful presentations and an intricate balance of flavors.  For me it simply came down to food preferences.  Winter squash, figs, goat cheese and kale are simply among my favorite foods on earth to eat.

Regardless of the votes, we had a splendid time enjoying amazing antipasti dishes and lovely wines out on the patio on a gorgeous Napa summer day!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Mole Adventure (the sauce, that is . . . )

I have always wanted to learn to make mole, and I finally got my chance!  The occasion?  Our May Supper Club, the theme of which was Mexican cuisine, in honor of Cinco de Mayo!  It was also my first opportunity to use my new Rick Bayliss cookbook, Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen.  I’m going to enjoy this cookbook immensely, I know.  Bayliss’s recipe instructions are very clear and easy to follow, even when the recipe is complex, and his explanatory notes about the history and regional variations of the dishes are a delight to read.  

For my Supper Club selection, I decided to make Bayliss’s Ayocotes en Coloradito, or Runner Beans in Brick-Red Mole.  Bayliss describes this dish is a Oaxacan specialty, pairing one of the region’s simpler moles with flavorful heirloom beans.  The mole sauce was one of the easier ones (albeit time consuming), and can be used with any number of other dishes.  I can’t wait to make it again!

My first step was locating the ingredients.  As is true in many parts of California, we are fortunate here in Sonoma to have access to a host of Mexican ingredients in grocery stores and specialty Mexican markets.  At one such local Mexican market, I found the dried ancho and guajillo chiles I needed in bulk, so I was able to buy just the amount I needed.  I also picked up Mexican canela cinnamon, which the folks at Rancho Gordo describe as softer and less astringent, warmer and more woodsy than cinnamon from cassia bark.  I also tracked down some Mexican chocolate, and Mexican oregano, again described by Rancho Gordo as similar to European oregano, but with a slight citrus twist.  Finally I needed the Ayocotes, or heirloom scarlet runner beans, which I picked up at Rancho Gordo’s store in Napa.  Add a couple of ripe tomatoes plus the remaining ingredients which I always have on hand, and I was ready to begin!

I sliced open my dried chiles, and removed the seeds and stems.  I heated a skillet without oil, opened up the chiles to flatten them, and toasted them briefly before popping them into hot water for 30 minutes to rehydrate.  Then I placed some foil over half my skillet, and put my tomatoes on it to toast.  I toasted some unpeeled garlic on the unfoiled part of the hot skillet.  I toasted both for about 10 minutes until they were blackened.  I peeled the garlic and the tomatoes, and popped them into my blender.  I toasted some sesame seeds next, rolling them around in the pan until they were browned, and added them to the blender.  I drained the chiles and added them to the blender too.  Last into the blender were the cinnamon, oregano, chocolate, some black pepper and 1 ½ cups chicken broth, and I hit the puree button.  This next bit required elbow grease.  I put my small mesh strainer over a big bowl and poured in the contents of the blender.  Then I took a large spoon and pressed and pressed with all my might until I got as much liquid out of the blended concoction as I could, because I didn’t want to miss a delicious drop!


Look at that brick red color!
Next, I heated olive oil in a saucepan.  (I’m pretty squeamish about lard from a health standpoint, and did not use it, although Bayliss lauds the flavor it adds.  I used his oil substitute instead.)  The mole sauce went into the saucepan with more broth, and simmered for an hour or so.  Then I seasoned with salt and sugar.

Meanwhile I cooked the runner beans in water as directed – they took about 2 ½ hours.  I drained them, poured them into my mole sauce, corrected the seasonings, and whisked them off to my Supper Club, where they were a big hit!

By the way, here was the lineup of the rest of our fabulous meal!

Fresh guacamole three ways
A delicious chorizo cheese dip with chips
Pasilla chiles stuffed w goat cheese
Pork Roasted in Banana Leaves
Mexican Rice and fresh homemade tortillas, of course!
Pastel de tres leches
(Note: there was also the special treat of Bon Vivant’s fabulous caviar torte – not Mexican, but ever amazing and delicious!)

Good times, good food!